Whole Class Teaching: The Only Practical Option

'The Visitation' by Jacopo Coppi del Meglio (1523-1591): eye contact is crucial.

‘The Visitation’ by Jacopo Coppi del Meglio (1523-1591): eye contact is crucial.

There’s a grain of truth in every progressive lie. If it were not so, these lies would not be so dangerous.

Consider the notion that pupils should be given individual attention, and that aiming a lesson at the whole class means that many will not engage.

Firstly, we should acknowledge the truth that individual, one to one instruction by a knowledgeable and sympathetic person is the most powerful kind of teaching possible. It’s how I managed to learn a lot during my formative years despite going through an incoherent state school system: I learnt from a father who had broad knowledge and spoke to me as though I was an adult (thankfully, no one had told him that young children couldn’t cope with serious topics).

But at school, the people I learned most from were the teachers who talked to the whole class in an engaging way. When we drifted on in our group activities, teachers hardly spoke to me at all. Often they ended up fire fighting disruption, because a large number of the class simply saw group work as an opportunity to chat or mess around.

It’s really a very simple matter of arithmetic. If a teacher tries to give individual attention to one pupil in a class of thirty, then twenty-nine pupils are being neglected. If they speak to the whole class, then they can give far more attention to a far larger number of pupils. They can also ensure that all pupils are paying attention, by arranging desks so they can make eye contact, and regularly firing questions at the class (without asking for hands up: what Lemov calls ‘cold calling’).

This isn’t to say, of course, that teachers should never talk to pupils individually. They can circulate during periods when pupils are working on a task, and make brief guiding comments or answer quick questions. But any extended conversation with one individual will obviously lead to the neglect of the rest of the class. And that principle applies whether there are ten, twenty or thirty of them. However small class sizes are, genuine individual teaching is not practically possible.

Whole class teaching is the only practical option when dealing with the whole class. Individual personal tutoring is also great, and my school does assign every pupil a personal tutor. But let’s not muddle up the two. Our time and energy are very precious, and wasting them on impractical methods means that we are failing our pupils.


2 thoughts on “Whole Class Teaching: The Only Practical Option

  1. Pingback: On Curricular Clarity | The Traditional Teacher

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